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Woot! Woot! I just got an email from the Sourdough Project that they want to examine and analyze my sourdough starter! For anyone who has no idea what the heck I am talking about, The Sourdough Project is a research project where they are analyzing samples of various sourdough starters from all over the world to determine their similarities, differences and to compile sourdough DNA.
Per their website explaining who’s involved:
This project is a broad collaboration involving experts in the evolution of food microorganisms (Ben Wolfe, Tufts University), the ecology of microbes (Tad Fukami, Stanford/Natural History Museum of Denmark), human evolution (Peter C. Kjærgaard, Natural History Museum of Denmark), the ecology of life in homes (Rob Dunn, Natural History Museum of Denmark/NC State University), the interface of microbial cultures and art (Anne Madden, NC State University) among others.
If you want to learn more about this project, other than from my ranting here, there’s a great article on NPR that I’ve written about previously.
If you’ve ever baked bread using yeast, and you are like me, you can stare into the bubbling starter, mesmerized by all the activity going on in that bowl. As you watch, bubbles surface and then disappear, over and over again. Happy yeast munching away.
The typical bread I bake is a sourdough ciabatta loaf. I created the sourdough starter that I am using from scratch, using a recipe I found online. Pretty basic stuff, I took a potato, put it in water and boiled it, then used the potato water with all its starchy goodness. I placed that in a mason jar, covered it with cheesecloth and left it on the kitchen counter. It attracted wild yeast in the air. Every day, I uncovered it, gave it a stir and put the cheesecloth back on. After about 5 days, it was bubbling away. At that point, I fed it, adding warm water and flour. Ta Da! Sourdough starter! If you have grapes around when you are doing this, it is good to leave your jar of potato water near them, as that white film on unwashed grapes is actually yeast.
The starter I made back then (about 15 years ago) is still what I use today. Anytime I want to make bread, I take out the starter from the fridge, bring it to room temperature and then add some warm water and flour in equal parts to feed it.
Starters are coveted, they are unique in the flavor and characteristics that they bring to a finished loaf of bread. Some sourdough starters are passed down through generations and make my little ol’ starter look like a baby by comparison. In fact, there is a project being conducted right now that is examining different starters. It’s pretty neat and can be found at Rob Dunn Lab. They are even soliciting sourdough starter samples for their project to research the DNA of sourdough.
I signed up, figuring that I would put my starter into the mix, if they’d like to have it for research purposes. To learn more about the project and sourdough starters in general, here’s an excellent NPR article.
Today is Homemade Bread Day. I didn’t know that there was such a holiday, but hey – I love bread and I enjoy baking bread so I’m all for it. There is nothing as good as the smell of fresh bread baking … it even trumps the smell of cookies in my world. If you told me years ago, that I would be baking bread on a fairly regular basis, I probably would have laughed at you. At that time, bread baking (if I did it at all) consisted of throwing the ingredients into the bread machine that my husband had gotten for me as a gift and 4 or so hours later out came a loaf of bread, a round tall loaf of bread but bread all the same. Since then I have created my own sourdough starter which is just about as old as my youngest son and babied it along all these years – almost losing it completely when the cleaning people cleaning our house here in Vermont while we were not here and threw away what appeared to be something that had horribly bad. Lucky for me, I still had a jar of starter in New Jersey, which I fed and doubled and we’ve been good ever since.
I have used the starter on a fairly regular basis and given lots of it away to various friends over the years. Now, bread baking is a more hands-on experience and has expanded into different types of bread and different techniques for making it. While I do not at all profess to be even remotely a professional, I’m a good amateur and I enjoy it immensely. The joke around our house has become that I must have performance anxiety when it comes to bread baking since under normal conditions I can make a pretty decent looking and tasting loaf of bread (see above) but when I want to really have the loaf turn out super good (like when my mom comes to visit) it is usually less than perfect.
Despite how it looks, it always tastes pretty darn good. Personally I like bread with pretty much everything but the kitchen sink thrown in there, but my family – well not so much. So my bread baking is generally confined to loaves that the family will eat such as sourdough, sandwich loaves, baguettes and dinner rolls. My latest endeavor has been to find the perfect sandwich loaf of bread, one that will pass the boys’ inspection for lunch. While, they’ll eat just about anything with dinner, taking the bread and making it into a sandwich is a more grueling inspection and I’m still working on that one.
I was recently asked if I would consider doing a baking class (or a cooking class) and I was both flattered and taken aback. Really? Me? The more I think about it, I think it would be fun – but there’s always the issue of the bread just not coming out the way I’d like. What do you think?
To celebrate Homemade Bread Day, go out and make yourself a loaf – here is my recipe for sourdough baguettes which were my first undertaking and is a tried-and-true favorite here at the T’s House.
- 1 cup sourdough starter – recipe follows
- 1 1/4 cup warm water (110 degrees)
- 3/4 cup 1% milk
- 1 T. oil
- 1 T. active dry yeast
- 1 T. sugar
- 1 T. kosher salt
- 6 cups all purpose flour
- Place 1 cup of starter, milk and warm water into the bowl of stand mixer fitted with hook attachment. Add yeast and sugar.
- Allow to sit for about 10 minutes.
- Add oil, salt and flour.
- Mix on low speed until blended and then mix at medium speed to knead for about 5 minutes. This dough will NOT form into a ball, if it does, you need to add more liquid. It should be wet and slack.
- Place dough into a well oiled bowl or container – cover and allow to rise in a warm place (I put mine next to the woodstove in the winter or into a preheated 160 degree oven (turn it off when it reaches temperature) to proof.
- Let rise until doubled in size. This can take an hour or two, depending upon the temperature. It is more important to move on only when it has doubled, no matter how long or short that is, rather than go by the time alone.
- Remove the dough onto a well floured surface. This dough will be sticky and if the surfaces does not have a lot of flour, you, the counter, the utensils will all be wearing the dough – trust me on this one.
- Divide the dough into three sections.
- Form each section into a ball and then roll out into a log about 9-12 inches long. Repeat for remaining dough.
- Place baguettes onto a baguette pan or separately on a flat baking sheet, sprayed with non-stick spray.
- Take a razor blade or sharp knife and make several slits in the surface of each baguette.
- Cover and let rise again for about 30 minutes.
- During this time, pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees.
- Just before placing baguettes into the oven, brush each one with water.
- Set the timer for 10 minutes. During this ten minutes, you should brush them again with water at least 2 more times.
- Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake until loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. (About 25-30 minutes)
- Remove from oven and enjoy!
Sourdough Bread Recipe
- 6 cups all purpose flour
- 1 cup sourdough starter
- 2 1/4 t. yeast
- 1 T. salt
- 1 T. vegetable oil
- 1 T. sugar
- 2/3 c. milk
- 1 1/3 c. warm water
Combine starter, yeast, water and sugar into mixer bowl. Add salt, oil and flour. Mix together in mixer with dough hook for about 3 minutes. Consistency of dough should be slack and moist (add additional flour or starter depending upon altitude and humidity to achieve desired consistency – akin to consistency for ciabatta).
Place dough in an oiled bowl and cover. Let rise until doubled, about 3 hours.
Take dough and divide in half. Place cast iron dutch oven into oven at 450 degrees. Heat for 1/2 hour and then take 1/2 of bread dough and place into cast iron. Cover and cook for approximately 30 minutes or until brown and crusty. Repeat with remaining dough to make 2 loaves.
Sourdough starter recipe
I have had this starter for about 9 years. Originally I boiled one potato cut up in one cup of water. Discard potato and cool water. Place cooled potato water in bowl or mason jar covered with cheesecloth. Leave on counter for approximately 5-7 days. The potato water should pick up natural yeast in the air. You can supplement this process by placing the jar/bowl close to a bowl of grapes which carry a natural yeast on them. Refrigerate starter after 7 days in a tightly sealed container. To use: Bring starter to room temperature and feed it with one cup water and one cup flour before each use.